Covid-19 pandemic impact on substance misuse: a social media listening, mixed method analysis.

Davide Arillotta, Amira Guirguis, John Martin Corkery, Norbert Scherbaum, Fabrizio Schifano

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The restrictive measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic modified some previously consolidated drug use patterns. A focus on social networks allowed drug users to discuss, share opinions and provide advice during a worldwide emergency context. In order to explore COVID-19-related implications on drug trends/behaviour and on most popular psychotropic substances debated, the focus here was on the constantly updated, very popular, Reddit social platform’s posts and comments. A quantitative and qualitative analysis of r/Drugs and related subreddits, using a social media listening netnographic approach, was carried out. The post/comments analysed covered the time-frame December 2019–May 2020. Between December 2019 and May 2020, the number of whole r/Drugs subreddit members increased from 619,563 to 676,581 members, respectively, thus increasing by 9.2% by the end of the data collection. Both the top-level r/Drugs subreddit and 92 related subreddits were quantitatively analysed, with posts/comments related to 12 drug categories. The drugs most frequently commented on included cannabinoids, psychedelics, opiates/opioids, alcohol, stimulants and prescribed medications. The qualitative analysis was carried out focussing on four subreddits, relating to some 1685 posts and 3263 comments. Four main themes of discussion (e.g., lockdown-associated immunity and drug intake issues; drug-related behaviour/after-quarantine plans’ issues; lockdown-related psychopathological issues; and peer-to-peer advice at the time of COVID-19) and four categories of Redditors (e.g., those continuing the use of drugs despite the pandemic; the “couch epidemiologists”; the conspirationists/pseudo-science influencers; and the recovery-focused users) were tentatively identified here. A mixed-methods, social network-based analysis provided a range of valuable information on Redditors’ drug use/behaviour during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further studies should be carried out focusing on other social networks as well as later phases of the pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Article number907
Number of pages20
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2021


  • Covid-19
  • drug misuse
  • mixed methods
  • NPS
  • psychonauts
  • Reddit
  • Novel Psychoactive Substances


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